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Classic Velocity Blog

The Green Elephant

Classic Velocity

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Quick, in postwar Germany of 1951, what was the fastest production motorcycle? Would you believe a machine referred to as the Green Elephant? Neither would I, but such is the case. It was not that unusual to have nicknames in the early 1950s as has been mentioned before (see of Silver Dolphins and Blue Whales). In this case, although Zundapp as a firm has been covered before in this blog  (see Volksmotorader), it had some significant individual machines during its long and life. One of those was the KS601. The KS stood for Kardan Sport, which was a reference to the U-joint used on the shaft drive, and the sport motor. In many ways it was the first modern machine produced after the war by Zundapp, as its predecessor the KS600 was really the continued production of a prewar model. The KS601 had a tubular steel frame rather than the pressed steel of the 600. It had telescopic forks and plunger rear suspension.

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The KS601 also had a 597cc horizontally opposed overhead valve engine, fed by two Bing carburetors. That engine was connected to a four speed gearbox with foot shifter that was in turn translated via shaft drive to the rear wheel. As you can tell by now, this gave it more than a passing resemblance to the BMW. To distinguish itself, Zundapp used color, and the most prevalent was a lime green. The appearance and the color together earned it the moniker the Green Elephant. Despite the name, the 28hp motor (more than a VW Beetle at the time) allowed the motorcycle to reach a 140kph top speed which topped everything on the road at that time. It also sported other innovative features like interchangeable front and rear wheels to balance tire wear.

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The production version of the KS601 hit the market in 1951 to enthusiastic response from the press. The public liked them for their reliability and suitability for sidecar duty. However, as solo machines they were continuously overshadowed by the more popular BMWs. They sponsored an around the world trip, introduced other colors, increased power to 34hp with the sport engine, and in 1957 introduced the elastic model, which had a rear swingarm. It was aimed primarily at the growing American market, but failed to gain any significant traction. Unfortunately all of these efforts failed to substantially change the position of the KS601 in the market. As citizens were once again able to afford automobiles and the sidecar business declined, The Green Elephant fell on hard times. Production of the KS601 ended in 1958 with just over 5000 motorcycles produced over its entire life. Zundapp survived the downturn mostly due to some interesting smaller two-stroke models and scooters, but went on to a rocky future..